Linguistics teaching assistant brings translation project into her classroom

By LaMonte Key — April 10, 2024

Masthead for issue 2 of Thousand Languages Project

Shahzadi Laibah Burq is currently pursuing a PhD in linguistics and applied linguistics and serving as a graduate teaching assistant in the Department of English at Arizona State University. She completed a master’s in teaching English to the speakers of other languages (MTESOL) as a Fulbright Scholar at ASU. Her research interests include diverse and inclusive second language pedagogies, translanguaging and multilingualism, and language planning and policy in education. She has seven years of English as a Second Language teaching experience. Burq is a tenured lecturer in the English Department at Balochistan University of Information Technology, Engineering, and Management Sciences. As an instructor, she employs multilingual teaching strategies to cultivate an inclusive atmosphere, allowing students to utilize their full linguistic repertoire.

Burq is an experienced facilitator of translanguaging pedagogy, a practice of seamlessly integrating multiple languages in a classroom to maximize students’ learning potential, which led to her involvement in ASU’s Thousand Language Project. Her translation of “Oriental” by Jenny Yang Cropp into Urdu appears in Issue 2.

The Thousand Languages Project is a collaborative translation database hosted at Hayden’s Ferry Review, an award-winning international literary journal run by creative writing students in the Department of English at ASU. To bring over thirty years of the journal’s original literary art to new audiences, students and others from around the globe are translating that work into additional languages, with the lofty, poetic goal of someday reaching a "thousand languages." 

Burq shared her experiences implementing her Thousand Languages Project translation in English composition course classrooms. 

Question: What was your interest and experience translating works as part of the Thousand Languages project?

Courtesy image of ASU linguistics student Shahzadi Laibah Burq

Answer: My engagement with the Thousand Languages Project grew from a deep-rooted passion for languages and the connective power of literature across cultures. This enthusiasm was not just academic but personal, shaped profoundly by a semester I spent in the U.S. through a cultural exchange program. This experience illuminated the importance of cultural understanding and dialogue, a theme poignantly explored in Jenny Yang Cropp's poem "Oriental." The poem's deep dive into identity and the Asian American experience resonated with me, echoing my own cross-cultural encounters. Choosing to translate "Oriental" was a decision driven by a desire to contribute to broader discussions on identity, culture, and the nuanced ways we connect across linguistic divides, leveraging my own journey of cultural immersion.

Q: After your translations for the project, you extended the work by taking the translations into your fall 2023 ENG 107 First-year Composition course. What initial ideas did you have about this integration?

A: Introducing the translations of "Oriental" into my ENG 107 course was inspired by the unique opportunity to engage students with their own identity exploration, especially as they navigated the complexities of a new cultural environment in the United States. Recognizing the varied linguistic backgrounds of my students, the poem’s translations in Urdu, Chinese, Spanish, and Indonesian served as a powerful tool for personal and academic exploration. The mutual intelligibility of Urdu and Hindi particularly resonated with my Indian students, fostering a sense of connection. This step was an initial foray into applying principles of translanguaging and culturally sustaining pedagogy, aiming to create an inclusive atmosphere where students could explore their identities through a multilingual lens.

Q: Can you share more about the benefits of using a translanguaging pedagogy in ENG 107? 

A: Incorporating the principles of translanguaging and culturally sustaining pedagogy into my ENG 107 course was a deliberate effort to align with my teaching philosophy, embracing and celebrating the linguistic and cultural diversity of my students. This initiative marked the beginning of my journey into these pedagogical approaches, which advocate for using students' full linguistic resources and cultural backgrounds as integral to their learning process. These frameworks not only enhanced students' engagement by allowing them to connect more deeply with the course content but also laid the groundwork for differentiated instruction. This approach anticipated the tailored teaching strategies I would employ, aimed at meeting the diverse needs of each student. By acknowledging and valuing the variety of languages and cultures represented in the classroom, I aimed to foster an inclusive environment where every student's identity was seen as an asset. This preparation for differentiated instruction was crucial in planning how to best support students' academic and personal growth, encouraging them to bring their whole selves into their educational journey and engage in a rich, inclusive dialogue that spanned beyond the confines of the classroom.

Q: Can you describe the differentiated instruction that you offered? How did the assignments promote student engagement? Did you notice applications in critical thinking, creativity, or any differences in the students’ sense of belonging? 

A: In our ENG 107 course, I tailored our lessons to embrace the diverse languages spoken by my students, enriching their engagement with personal and cultural identity through the use of literature.

We began with a dynamic presentation of "Oriental" by Jenny Yang Cropp, showcasing its translations into Urdu, Chinese, Indonesian, and Spanish, alongside the English original. This multilingual display was more than an educational strategy; it was a celebration of our classroom's cultural diversity, inviting every student into the conversation from the outset. I encouraged students fluent in these languages to read aloud, creating a communal experience that highlighted the beauty of our linguistic differences.

The heart of our exploration involved a creative task where students penned brief poems about their identity in their language of choice. The essence of this exercise was to deepen personal reflection and understanding. They then collaborated in groups to translate these verses into English, a process that not only bridged languages but also fostered a shared exploration of identity. This step was crucial, setting the stage for a deeper, collective investigation into how we navigate and represent our multifaceted selves.

This preparatory activity led seamlessly into a major project focused on analyzing personal identity, leveraging the insights gained from our multilingual examination of "Oriental." The process of engaging with the poem in various languages and the subsequent translation work served as powerful tools for students to connect their individual experiences with broader themes of identity. It was a method designed to not just enhance academic inquiry but to validate and amplify the diverse voices within our classroom.

By intertwining literature, language, and culture, we crafted a learning environment where every student's story was acknowledged, encouraging them to critically examine their place in the world. This approach was about more than just understanding literature; it was a journey towards fostering mutual respect and a deeper sense of belonging among all students. Through this nuanced yet impactful strategy, we navigated the complexities of identity together, transforming our classroom into a space where differences were not barriers but bridges to richer understanding and connection.

Q: What outcomes do you hope for the Thousand Languages Project to have?

A: My hope for the Thousand Languages Project is to deepen appreciation for global linguistic diversity, illustrating how every language reflects unique cultures and identities. I envision it encouraging educational systems worldwide to embrace multilingualism, enhancing inclusivity and global understanding. Additionally, I aim for the project to spotlight the urgency of preserving endangered languages, contributing to efforts that keep these vital expressions of human heritage alive. Through exploring translations across various forms, from poetry to art, the project should expand our understanding of cultural expression, fostering a richer, global dialogue. Ultimately, this initiative seeks to celebrate the world's linguistic richness, promoting empathy and connection across cultural divides.